New research conducted at Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University Southern California demonstrates how poor oral health, dental disease and tooth pain can put children at a disadvantage in school.

The study assessed nearly 1,500 socioeconomically disadvantaged elementary and high school children in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Researchers analyzed the children's oral health in accordance with their academic achievement and attendance records.

According to Roseann Mulligan, chair of the school's Division of Dental Public Health and Pediatric Dentistry and corresponding author of the study, children who reported recent tooth pain were four times more likely to have a lower grade point average, compared to others. Children with tooth aches were four times more likely to have a low grade point average, below the median GPA of 2.8, compared to children who did not have any oral pain.

Not only is poor oral health linked to lower grades, but also dental problems leads to a higher percentage of absences.  "On average, elementary children missed a total of 6 days per year, and high school children missed 2.6 days. For elementary students, 2.1 days of missed school were due to dental problems, and high school students missed 2.3 days due to dental issues," Mulligan said. "That shows oral health problems are a very significant factor in school absences. Also, parents missed an average of 2.5 days of work per year to care for children with dental problems."

A main factor for children who were forced to miss school due to oral health was the accessibility of dental care. Of the participants in the study 11 percent of children had limited access to health care, which include lack of access to health care, lack of access to transportation and/or other barriers, compared to the four percent children who had access to both health care and transportation.

Mulligan believes in order to increase academic performance and close the gap of dental care, health care, oral care and educational and school programs should be integrated.

"Furthermore, widespread population studies are needed to demonstrate the enormous personal, societal and financial burdens that this epidemic of oral disease is causing on a national level," she said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.